Hello Prince Of Wales Bandroom, we meet once again.
How have you been since we first met about three years? Good? Yeah, I’m good too, thank you for asking.
No, I have not missed in the slightest the structural pillar that is positioned smack dead in front of your stage a la The Corner Hotel’s design, but that’s okay, we all mistakes. And I am more inclined to forgive you this once. See, I forgive you because on this night – Tuesday, January 24th – you play host to a damn fine bill of High Tension, Sick Of It All and Refused. Let’s talk about that, shall we?
First up is Melbourne’s very own, High Tension.
These guys and gals play a blackened, thunderous brand of hardcore, one that is both confronting and full of venom. And it is songs like ‘High Risk, High Rewards‘ and ‘Bully‘ that embody this fully. Sadly, many punters who bought tickets for this sold out gig wouldn’t have known this because the room was only half fucking full by the time High Tension’s solid half hour set concluded! Which was just a shame to see, but High Tension made do and the four-piece did their best to engage with an audience that was most certainly saving its energy for the next two internationals. One such way they combated this was when vocalist Karina Utomo sat atop the stage barrier, almost like a teacher educating her class, addressing her students from atop her desk. But for the rest of their set, she stays on our side of the barrier, stalking her way through the crowd, keeping up with her bandmates output back up on-stage. Even if much of the crowd was happy to remain idle, High Tension would not partake in such pleasantries; hoping that their heavy sound and that their set isn’t forgotten anytime soon.
However, there were a couple issues I cannot ignore.
The guitars and bass (and boy, was there a lot of bass in their set) did drown out Lauren Hammel’s drumming, which did mean the mix wasn’t as punchy as it should have been. Also, as much as I love Karina Utomo’s menacing, throaty screams, they sometimes do not land with the impact I feel the songs often require live. To be fair, opening bands do often get the short end of the stick with their mixes, which can usually range from ‘fine’ to ‘yeah, that could sound a lot better’, (hell, sometimes soundcheck times can be almost nonexistent – as Issues sadly found out on that 2016 ADTR tour.) Whether or not it was a front of house issue or an actual band issue, this did detract from their monstrous, oppressive sound at times. With that being said, it’s a tough job to open for two bands such as Sick Of It All and Refused, have a so-so mix, and on a Tuesday night in St. Kilda no less. But these factors cannot fully detract from how solid this band was live, and with Refused having selected them personally for this tour and with a new full-length album on the horizon, hopefully, more and more of the local scene picks up on this band in 2017.
I know I will be.
From one of the better local hardcore acts to one of the genre’s prime bands, we now arrive at the tour’s main support – New York veterans Sick Of It All.
This tour comes at the very tail end of the band’s 30 year anniversary, and their age doesn’t show in their live sound and actual performance. Of course, one can argue that with their faster song tempos aside, SOIA’s music isn’t that taxing to play and it really can be indistinguishable. And you would be right in that argument, and this fact is only amplified when the band play live. Hearing that many similar guitar riffs and song structures was just almost dizzying, but despite the band’s lack of musical variation, these guys give it their absolute all live after all these years!
Vocalist Lou Keller moved consistently across the stage, feeding as much breath into the mic as a man could ever hope to give, and his brother/guitarist Pete Keller was definitely aiming to meet Sick Of It All’s punk jump quota for the night. Drummer Armand Majidi kept the pace at an expert level (you’d hope so if he’s been playing this fucking long) and bassist Craig Setari provided more backing vocals than any other band member I’ve ever seen. Even Makka from local hardcore crew, Crowned Kings, joined the band up on stage at one point for an appropriate little guest feature. But back to the actual band members now. Lou Keller also at one point made, in good fun, one of cheekiest, funniest things I’ve heard a frontman of a hardcore band say – “You guys remember two-step, yeah? You know, it’s like ska dancing except for men!”
Look, I am a real sucker for the odd tasteless, bad joke here and there, and I ain’t going to lie… that one fucking got me!
Their 45-minute set was, much like the night’s headliners, a mixture of the old-school and the new-school in terms of material; ensuring that the young ones in attendance felt young and that the old fans felt really fucking old.
Their set ranged all the way from the first song they ever wrote – ‘My Life‘ – through to ‘Injustice System‘, ‘DNC‘, ‘Scratch The Surface‘ & ‘Step Down‘ (which they ended with and saw High Tension’s Hammel and Utomo get in some crowd surfs) to more recent hardcore bangers of ‘Death Or Jail‘, ‘Uprising Nation‘ and ‘Take The Night Off‘, and even ‘Doomed Campaign‘ from their latest EP, ‘When The Smoke Clears‘. The die-hard fans in the crowd responded accordingly to these songs, whipping up the first real mosh pit action of the night. Whether you were a long time follower that’s been around since the ‘Blood, Sweat, And No Tears‘ or ‘Scratch The Surface‘ days, or are even a younger fan that’s just stepped on board within the last few years; that set would have left any fan very happy.
30 years on, and it’s still not so bad that hardcore music. (And if you don’t get that reference, I could never ever truly love you as a human being.)
Before going any further, you need to understand something about me, and that is that I love Refused.
Let me reiterate that for full effect: I. Fucking. Love. Them.
‘The Shape Of Punk To Come‘ is my third favourite record of all time (right behind My Chemical Romance’s ‘The Black Parade‘ and At The Drive-In’s ‘Relationship Of Command‘) and 2015’s ‘Freedom‘ was a fantastic record to return with after being gone for so long. I also missed the band on their 2012 victory lap and I heard universal praise for those shows – one of my friends on this night even described the band’s Palace Theatre show four years ago as her favourite gig of all time. Dayumn.
With the room fully packed and darkened from the time Sick Of It All left the stage, with only fluctuating brownish-yellow lights emitting from behind the drum kit and amps, and the uncomfortable drone being looped over the PA prior to their set commencing, many looked on edge, myself included. This was exacerbated by the fact that it was a painfully long time until the band actually hit the stage – all for the desired effect. Yet despite my deep, deep admiration and internalised hype, which went into overdrive when drummer David Sandström appeared first, I must admit that opening with ‘Servants Of Death‘ was a rather low-key action to make. Not that it’s a bad song by any means, and it is the title of their latest EP, but given the immense atmosphere and anticipation set and the fact that, you know, this is motherfucking Refused, it felt anti-climactic. But that was all okay because they followed it up with the title track of their seminal album, as well as the short rager of ‘Refused Party Program‘ and quite surprisingly, the first big classic song of the night – ‘Rather Be Dead‘.
Besides, if the worst thing I can think of is that Refused opened with ‘Servants Of Death‘, then they’re doing something right!
Now, ‘Rather Be Dead‘ brings me to a good point about their discography; if you only care about or if you only know about ‘The Shape Of Punk To Come‘, then you’re truly missing out some great songs of theirs. Whether it be oldies like ‘Coup d’etat‘ and ‘Life Support Addiction‘ or new classics like ‘Dawkins Christ‘ and ‘Elektra‘ – all of which they played by the way – there’s so much to soak up and enjoy with this band’s wider discography. Yet even so, as much as I enjoy their other albums, namely ‘Freedom‘, I cannot get past how brilliant those ‘Shape…‘ songs are live, holy shit.
I understood this, my friends in attendance understood this, and the whole room that night did as well, I feel.
For instance, when they suddenly launched into the heavy, jagged ripper of ‘The Deadly Rhythm‘, with a quick and wicked performance of the intro to Slayer’s ‘Raining Blood‘, the energy in the room was just electric and intense. Of course, Refused are a band that loves playing music but they are also a band that loves to stick to their political guns and speak out on certain issues. So after their frontman criticised humanities lack of imagination and our continual use of two-party political systems, the opening riff of the ‘Summerholidays vs. Punkroutine‘ entered the room. It was an odd juxtaposition of real-world talk with upbeat punk rock vibes, but a great one all the same as Dennis Lyxzén’s screams of “Rather be forgotten than remembered for giving in” were met back at him twice as loud.
Between Refused’s initial break-up and reunion, Lyxzén has been honing his engineer-sweating mic tricks and energetic dance moves in the sensational yet underrated The International (Noise) Conspiracy, and since his return to his first Swedish love, his on-stage moves have been on point. Swinging the mic around, flinging it out and catching it all in time with the music was a real nice touch, which was all aided by the strong surging, strobe lights behind the band. It was an engaging visual feat that made me feel like if I turned around or looked at my phone for an instance, I’d miss something awesome. He and his four bandmates (who were all so in-sync with each other, namely Sandström and long-time touring guitarist, Mattias Bärjed) all looked so comfortable performing live like they were each born to do this.
Well, except for the one time that old mate fucked up while he was swinging the mic around (a la this articles header photo) and hit the roof of the venue, creating a lovely, pleasing sound to the ears of ‘DOOF‘ through the PA.
Smooth move, Dennis.
Perhaps it is fitting that the very song that began their now internationally loved and revered record, ‘Worms of the Senses/Faculties of the Skull‘, should be the song that ended their first set. Because everyone loves an encore nowadays and I’ll be damned if that song isn’t epic live. But as for an encore, the explosiveness of ‘Elektra‘ turned everything from zero back up to 10 instantly and it was eaten up by the audience and then some. Now… do you really need me to say that they played ‘New Noise‘? Like, come on now, as if they wouldn’t play it. That would be like…well…that would be like Refused not playing ‘New Noise‘!
But yes, they played it.
Yes, it was fucking unreal.
And yes, shit absolutely went off in the crowd, for the intro, the choruses, and of course, the song’s final build-up. For real, that final minute was pure chaos.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that would be it for the band’s set. After all, Refused just played ‘New Noise‘, which is what many came to see that night (which is like going to a really, expensive, really fancy buffet and only eating the steak). But no, wait, there’s more: ‘Tannhäuser‘. That one Swedish named song on ‘The Shape Of Punk To Come‘, the one song that the band used to end with that wasn’t ‘New Noise‘, got a grand performance to cap off their phenomenal set, one that consistently proved just how good this band is live.
The only things that marred the band’s set was the occasional older fan who seemed to have just come along to mosh out like a complete nutter, ignoring everyone else in the process of his own fun, and a select few obnoxious male crowd members who TRIED to be funny during Lyxzén’s pre-‘New Noise‘ speech about the horrible ways that some men treat women. Look, even if you don’t abuse or harass your female partner, even if you aren’t the problem that he spoke of, trying to make jokes and acting like a twat during such a speech sure as shit makes you look like the problem! Oh, and to the front row punter who hit our photographer, Owen, in the head because you “couldn’t see” the stage despite being right at the goddamned barrier – fuck you. (Owen’s all good guys, don’t stress.)
And yet, even those caveats couldn’t change what a terrific show this was. I think what is very telling about a truly great live act such as Refused is that after their show, on your way home or when you’re back in bed that same night/morning, you have that itch, that urge to keep listening to their music. Like you need another fix of it, and even if the records won’t give you the recent live high you experienced, you need it all the same.
Excuse me, I need to go put on ‘Circle Pit‘.
PC: Digital Beard.